Think of the great trilogies: Star Wars, the Godfather, Police Academy. In each instance the third is considered the worst. Obviously, Police Academy didn't stop at three. It's only with the addition of mountains that things get better. I give you Lord of The Rings as the standard.
But it's not just the mountains which make it better, although they do help. It's the suffering of Frodo Baggins. It's the love of all that's decent. And, of course, it's a hefty dose of rule 5. Are we still using those rules?
So. Wednesday the 20th brought me to Pratto Stelvio at the Base of the great and glorious mountain pass. You can read about my rekindled love for the mighty pass here. However, whilst climbing I couldn't help notice the inordinate amount of cycling-specific litter at the roadside. I'm going to assume that cigarette butts aren't ours. But energy Gels and pastes, well, they are. This made me sad, sadder than I could express from a phone keyboard.
So, with time on my hands I decided to do my bit, and in a Frodo-esque battle against the evils of our passion I resolved to climb this beautiful mountain again later that day – all 26km of it, at an average gradient of 11% and complete with its 48 hairpin bends – but this time to pick up every bit of cycling trash I could find.
This was no beautiful cinematic experience. There was no Mavic support car with photographers and soigneurs in attendance. This was raw, brutal struggling, a single person suffering on a cold mountainside for something they believed in. I hate litter: I always have and always will, whether it's a fag butt, a newspaper or a gel wrapper. It's not needed and it shows a complete lack of respect. If you can carry it up the hill, you can damn well carry it back down again. It's 5 grams in your pocket. Get a grip.
This is The Stelvio pass, people. The Stelvio, the mountain you pin up on your wall, the one you have as your desktop background and say, 'one day'. Would you go on a date with the person of your dreams and spit on the floor? Show some respect for where you are, whether it be for the heritage or the fact that it's mother nature at her most beautiful. Dropping litter negates every aspect of your ride. You are robbed of your epicness, of your glory, your suffering means naught. Not one jot. You are an asshole, a douche bag, a parasite and a plague on the sport, a blight on the amazing surroundings in which you find yourself. I could use more words, but I don't want this to be blocked by your work filters.
And we wonder why the New Forest doesn't want mass rides? If we will do this to one of the sacred hallows of cycling, what will we do in our own back yard?
The mountain is a little more beautiful this morning. I hurt like never before, but in doing so cemented my love for this climb, for the bends and inclines, for the views and the toll its climbing takes.
It rained for the last 10km. It was dark and misty, and I was totally alone for hours on end. And it was beautiful, quite simply the most beautiful ride of my life. I hung on with emergency Werthers for the last few km, unable to ride for more than 100 metres without pausing through exertion, spent and absolutely on the rivet.
And the mountain rewarded me with sleep like no other, with the knowledge that I had spent my day climbing over 50km, and with the deep profound peace that I had suffered but brought a little good to the world.
I've got to say a massive thanks to the Hotel Albergo Folgore who put me up last night, and who manned the checkpoint for the transcontinental race: they are true friends of cycling and 'got' the crazy mission I had set myself. Even sending out a car at 10pm to check on me to make sure I was still alive! When you visit the Stelvio – and you must – pop over the summit and visit the Folgore, the welcome is as warm as the log fire.
Thanks also to Assos and the Official Assos Outlet, for kitting me out for the race, but also for providing me with weather proofing to allow me to spend hours grinding up a mountain and keeping dry the whole time.